By John Burton |
RED BANK — Her eight years serving as the state’s first lieutenant governor has given Kim Guadagno the appropriate perspective and experience to serve in the top spot, she said.
“I’ve had eight years to meet people, to talk to people,” said Guadagno, preparing her for the role of governor. “I don’t think New Jersey can afford on-the-job training,” she added, a clear jab at her opponent, Democrat Philip D. Murphy, for Nov. 7’s election.
Guadagno, 58, is a resident of Monmouth Beach, who is running this year as the Republican candidate for governor. On Thursday, Aug. 10, she sat down with the editorial staff of The Two River Times to discuss the campaign as well as the issues facing the state and Monmouth County.
The leading issue facing voters, unsurprisingly, is taxes, said Guadagno. In response, she has drafted a plan which the campaign and the lieutenant governor said would have a “circuit breaker” attached, ensuring the state’s most vulnerable – primarily seniors and those close to retirement – have a stopgap measure to protect their fixed incomes.
The largest portion of property owners’ tax bills concerns those funds intended for school funding. Guadagno’s plan would ensure that no household paid more than 5 percent of their total household income toward school taxes.
The campaign gave an example of a property in Red Bank where the median 2010 household income was $59,118. That home would have paid $4,394 in 2016 school taxes. Under Guadagno’s plan, that household would save $1,438.14. Guadagno said previously this would not be a rebate, but a direct savings, coming off the tax bill. Any shortfall the public school district had would be made up by additional state funding.
The overall cost for this plan, Guadagno previously estimated, would be roughly $1.5 billion. She proposed paying for the plan through a comprehensive audit of state government agencies and savings that can be derived from state employee health care and sick pay reforms, among other restructuring that would result in savings. “We should look at everything,” she offered. “We haven’t looked at everything in 30 years.”
These measures, she maintained, will allow seniors to plan on staying in New Jersey, instead of having to forsake their family homes and relocate. The same is true for millennials, who were raised here but cannot afford to buy their first homes in New Jersey, she said. “They can plan for the future,” knowing the extent of the tax burden.
“People need help now in New Jersey,” said Guadagno. Even as unemployment declines and new businesses continue to be attracted to the state, the people she speaks with continue to feel insecure over their economic future. “Nobody feels better,” is her sense of the general mood in the state. And the reason is because of the cost of living. Guadagno vowed to continue her efforts to address the quality of life for everyone in the state. “We need to talk about making New Jersey affordable again,” she said.
Affordable housing continues to be an issue that vexes municipalities as they grapple with housing obligations established by the now largely defunct Council on Affordable Housing (COAH).
COAH grew out of the state Supreme Court’s Mount Laurel decision, which ruled every municipality “must do their fair share” to provide moderate and low-income housing opportunities. That goal is “objectively a noble thing,” Guadagno said. However, in practice it hasn’t fared very well, resulting in protracted lawsuits, confusion for officials trying to address it, and now forcing judges to make the determination as to whether towns’ plans are viable given COAH’s current dormant state.
Guadagno sees affordable housing as a way to “give people a path forward.” And her suggestion is to work with areas of the state which have the best employment and transportation opportunities to establish available housing, bringing together those opportunities. “Let’s put the houses where the jobs are,” she recommended.
Monmouth County, where Guadagno and her family call home, had a tough time with the economic downfall in 2008. But momentum is continuing, she observed. Guadagno pointed to the redevelopment of the former Fort Monmouth property. While slow in the beginning, Guadagno said, “I believe it’s about to take off,” as the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) continues to work with developers and established businesses relocated to the fort site.
Another bright spot is Bell Works, she said. Bell Works is a large mixed-use development with residential and high tech businesses on the sprawling Holmdel property that had been home to Bell Labs for many years. Guadagno said the project “is fabulous” and is developing into “an innovative hub for the county.”
Guadagno, during her time in The Two River Times’ office, cautiously waded into the controversial waters swirling around the JCP&L proposal to string high power lines along the NJ Transit commuter rail line in Monmouth County. JCP&L has been seeking approval for the power lines that would run along the tracks from Red Bank to Matawan. Residents in proximity to the power lines have been waging a fierce battle opposing it, citing health considerations and a negative impact to property values among their numerous concerns.
The matter is currently being evaluated by a state Administrative Law judge and is under consideration by the state Board of Public Utilities.
As secretary of state and lieutenant governor, and with the prospect of further litigation on this matter, Guadagno offered a guarded assessment. She met with members of the group opposing the plan, believing “JCP&L needs to demonstrate a need,” for the project, something the energy company has not yet done, she alleged. “Then they have to find a solution.”
Guadagno began her political career elected to the three-member Monmouth Beach Commission, the community’s governing body. She has lived in Monmouth Beach since 1991, when she moved there with her husband, Michael Guadagno, now a retired state Appellate Court judge. They have three sons: one a U.S. Air Force fighter jet pilot; one a student at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire; and their youngest who attends Shore Regional High School, West Long Branch.
In 2007, Guadagno, a former assistant U.S. Attorney, was elected Monmouth County sheriff, the first woman in the county to hold that job.
In 2009, she was elected as the state’s first lieutenant governor, running with Chris Christie, the former U.S. Attorney for New Jersey.
She is scheduled to have two debates with Democrat Murphy, on Oct. 11 and Oct. 18.
Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and former U.S. ambassador to Germany, is also a Monmouth County resident, living in Middletown.
The Two River Times has extended the same invitation to the Murphy campaign to sit down with their candidate.
This article was first published in the Aug. 17-24, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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